Athletes Express Concerns Regarding Olympic Open Water Test Event

by Tomas Rodriguez 23

August 12th, 2019 News, Open Water, Tokyo 2020


  • Sunday, August 8th, 2019
  • Odaiba Marine Park, Japan
  • Open Water Swimming
  • Start time: 7 AM (local time in Tokyo, Japan)
  • No results issued

Swimmers who competed at the test event expressed concerns related to the water quality and temperature at a marathon swimming test event for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympics which took place on Sunday, August 11, 2019. Per the Organizing Committee, Sunday’s open-water race was performed with the purpose of operational testing, therefore no results have been published.

The event started at 7 a.m. with the air temperature already over 30 degrees Celsius in the Japanese capital city. Between July 29th and August 4th of this year, 57 people have lost their lives resulting from heat-related illnesses in the Japanese capital.

“That was the warmest race I’ve ever done,” 3-time Olympic medalist Ous Mellouli of Tunisia told Agence-France Presse (AFP). “It felt good for the first 2km then I got super overheated.”

Japanese swimmer Yumi Kida told the AFP that the water was “a little stinky, and the clarity was not very good so I really want to improve the quality.” She also expressed concern over the water temperature.

Last year, the Organizing Committee performed water surveys using an underwater screen to try and contain water contamination and gave thee screens a positive review.

This year, the Committee installed a single-layer screen for yesterday’s test event, and plan to apply a triple-layer screen next year at the Olympics. These screens are designed to keep disease-causing agents like E. coli away from the swimmers.

Several rowers competing at the World Rowing Junior Championships yesterday in Tokyo had to be treated after experiencing symptoms of heatstroke. That tournament also served as a test event for next year’s Olympics.

The water temperature there reached 34 degrees Celsius (93 Fahrenheit) at the Olympic rowing venue Sea Forest Waterway, which is where the test event took place. The Sea Forest Waterway is 14.5 kilometers (9.01 miles) away from Odaiba Marine Park, where marathon swimming will take place.

Based on FINA’s rules, athletes may not race when the water temperature exceeds 31 degrees Celcius (88 Fahrenheit). Further, FINA’s executive director Cornel Marculescu said competitors’ well-being was the top priority.

In the summer of 2017, water tests conducted revealed that day-to-day water quality at Odaiba varied significantly depending on weather conditions, particularly on whether or not it had rained. Of the samples collected over the test period, just 10 days saw the marathon swimming water quality standards meet those specified by FINA, while only 6 days saw the triathlon quality standards meet those specified by the International Triathlon Union (ITU).

Tokyo 2020 organizers have pledged to keep water clean and safe ongoing, however, time is running out for the water quality to be improved by August, the timeframe of the Pan Pacs. In late 2018, Tokyo officials announced that they had been able to use underwater triple-layer screens to improve the water’s quality.

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2 Cents
4 years ago

This is just stupid and honestly a no-brainer. The stupid part is that they think it will be different next year same time and really stupid to race in 88 degree water, let alone the 93 it was at for this test event. I thought having the winter olympics in a sub tropical location was stupid, but this is as stupid if not more so. The no-brainer should be to MOVE the race. I think I know what will happen. They will still race in 90 some water, but they will do the “official” temp measure in a place thats 30 feet deep and locate a cold current to do it. They will say the water is only 85 (still… Read more »

Steven Munatones
Reply to  2 Cents
4 years ago

The race will NOT be moved. That is the official and oft-stated position of FINA and the Japanese Olympic Organizing Committee. There are plenty of other more beautiful, much cooler locations around Tokyo where the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim can be held. The lakes around Mount Fuji would be the most ideal setting for an iconic race, especially with Mt. Fuji in the background in my opinion. Japanese swimmers – both world-class and local – have known about this situation in Odaiba for a long time (regarding water temperature and water quality), but all the alternative suggetions and complaints have been routinely and immediately dismissed by the authorities. During the test event, the water temperature ranged from 29.5°C as measured… Read more »

2 Cents
Reply to  Steven Munatones
4 years ago

You had me until the very end. If athletes are doing that, and are subjecting themselves to temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s for training to “acclimate their bodies” then that is just stupid and should not be. You will have athletes dying in training leading up to the Olympics. Plus the example of ice swimmers is stupid as well as ice swimming is not an Olympic sport, nor something that happens on the same cardio level that swimming 10k does.

We both agree that they will “fudge” the official temp and they SHOULD move it, and we both agree that they probably wont, and that any complaints will be dismissed.

I would love to see… Read more »

4 years ago

I love “warm water” for swim practice — but 88-93!!! scary…

4 years ago

I teach infants self survival swim lessons
There is a big difference with them in 86 vs 90’ water! Change the venue!!!

George Taylor
4 years ago

In 2010, I did the United States Masters Swimming (USMS) 10K openwater Championship in Noblesville, in July. Water temp was 88F air temp at 7 a.m was in the high 80’s, that day it went over a 100F, it was over a 100F the day before. It was horrible! Burning up I spent extra time at the water stations, cramped up. In my opinion, If you want actual racing, water shouldn’t exceed 82F.

Reply to  George Taylor
4 years ago

For a reference, the “therapy” pools for senior swimmers tend to be 82F or so. Whenever I’ve attempted to swim in those I feel like taking a nap.

4 years ago

Please relocate the race to another part of japan, we don’t need another Fran Crippen incident. 93 degrees is way to high for any athlete to race safely. Please, for the safety of the athletes move it to a safer location!

4 years ago

I don’t know that it’s as much of a matter of “they don’t care about athletes” so much as they aren’t really wrapping their minds around the dangers of unsafe water conditions.

Even if they don’t care about the athletes per se, I don’t think they want the athlete dying at their events. The lawsuits will slice into their hefty per diem budgets. They might even have to dip into the same mystery bag of money that they went to for the Champions Series money that seemed to materialize out of nowhere. I just think they’re eschewing the severity of the risks.

Daniel Slosberg
4 years ago

A critical piece of information is missing here: What was the water temperature? Yes, you tell us what it was 9 miles away, but that’s next-to-meaningless.

I get the impression that “no results issued” actually means “we don’t want to publish the water temperature because that would show that it was above 88 and thus ‘competitors well-being was the top priority’ is nonsense.” I hope I’m wrong.

Reply to  Daniel Slosberg
4 years ago

agree – water temperature is most important. 7am start so sun shouldn’t be that big a factor. could even start earlier since I think they have early sunrise. Move the event to deeper, colder water IMO. Give these amazing athletes the best conditions, not the minimum acceptable. Throw a beer party and let spectators watch on TVs somewhere in Tokyo, or do a booze cruise alongside the peloton.

4 years ago

As a swimmer I hate swimming in hot, soupy water….I’d rather be chilled for a long swim…

Reply to  torchbearer
4 years ago

I agree. I’ve done races in 64 degree water and 84 degree water, and I much prefer 64.